Overview of Book

Two nonmutually exclusive sets of concepts emerge from our studies. The first set of concepts is that initial and intermediate cascade elements may act as gateways, filters, and/or catalysts to the climatic signal. Gateways can be open or closed; that is, they can either permit the passage of material, energy, or information or not. Filters may pass a variable amount of material, energy, or information along through the cascade. This amount varies from all to none and includes all the possibilities in between. Thus, the filters in the system help promote a buffering function to a climate disturbance. Catalysts occur where the presence of one component greatly enhances the effectiveness of two or more other components in the system. The second set of concepts deals with classes of ecosystem response to climate variability. There are at least three broad classes of interaction between systems and climate. First, the ecosystem buffers climate variability. Second, the ecosystem simply responds to individual climate events and episodes that exceed some threshold for response. Third, the ecosystem moves into resonance with the climatic variability with positive and negative feedbacks that produce a strong ecosystem response. These two sets of concepts will be discussed in the final chapter.

This first chapter of this book is an introduction to the general topic of climate variability and ecosystem response in the LTER program. We have also introduced our framework questions. Chapters 2-20, which form the body of the work, are organized into five parts, each one, except part V, dealing with the separate timescales at which we are looking. Each part, except part V, has its own introduction and a section synthesizing the material and results as they apply to the particular time-scale being studied. Part I considers the short timescale ranging from an individual storm to a year or less. Part II focuses on the quasi-quintennial scale and concentrates on events that have a recurrence interval of about 5 years, such as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation. The group of chapters in part III addresses the time-scale of several decades. Part IV treats climate variability at the century to millennial timescale. Individual chapters do not always fit with ease into one or the other divisions of timescales. Perhaps the best example of this is chapter 14, which deals with individual short period extratropical storms. The frequency of these storms is found to vary at a century timescale. Similarly, the Sevilleta chapter (chapter 15) could equally well fit into the quasi-quintennial or the decadal or even the century-scale section. Part V includes chapters from individual sites that cover the topic at several timescales. This material seeks to address the issue of climate variability and ecosystem response without being constrained to a particular scale. Chapter 21 is a review of the answers to our framework questions, concluding comments, and suggestions for further research.


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Part I

Short-Term Climate Events

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